Anthony Esolen reminds us that nature was created by God for us, to be enjoyed by us. Athanasius long ago argued that God’s nurturing and loving character was best discovered and experienced through the divine theater of creation. The Bible often describes the presence of God with garden and forest imagery, recapitulations of the Genesis account where the first man and woman dwelt with God in paradise.
Jonathan Edwards invites us to consider that the echoes of such biblical imagery continue to resound in and through the woods. By spending time in sylvan landscapes, our senses are enlivened to the real world of God’s creation and indeed his presence. The woods are in effect a vast cathedral; a world of trees and shed leaves, acres of berries constituting a Babette’s feast for cedar waxwings, rivers of water reflecting the sparkling light of the sun reigning over the vast deep blue sky, a foretaste of the endless day. The incense of pine is accompanied by a chorus of birds, which has long been likened to an earthly manifestation of the choir of angels, who also sing and have wings.
And so, the eighteenth-century narrative above beckons us to not merely practice the spiritual discipline of solitude, but to rediscover the presence of God in the midst of the beauties of his creation. More so, the sweetness of his described divine fellowship should dispel any misconstrued notions about the author of one of the most famous and terrifying sermons ever preached. For behind the horrifying images of Sinners, behind the Great Awakenings that swept across the Connecticut Valley, behind contemporary philosophical and theological issues that continue to be wrestled with at the highest levels of the academy, stands the figure of a man who once enjoyed solitary walks in a Massachusetts wood.
As a suitable accompaniment to contemplative walks in the woods, make sure to download our free new eBook: Devotions at Dawn: Morning Prayers through the Ages.